2020 NFL Draft Scouting Report

Tua Tagovailoa

February 1, 2020 4:00 PM EST

Jeffrey Okudah Scouting Report picture

School: Alabama

Height: 6'1"

Weight: 218

Eligibility: JR

Uniform: #1

Position: Quarterback

Evaluated by: Austin Smith
February 1, 2020

Prospect Overview

Under Nick Saban, the Alabama Crimson Tide have become a factory for churning out blue-chip NFL prospects with the exception of the quarterback position. For years, I questioned why highly-recruited quarterback would ever choose Alabama simply because they were the definition of a run-first offense. Running backs and offensive linemen are what Saban's offensive coordinators typically featured, and while plenty of talented receivers have made their way through Tuscaloosa, the Heisman candidates have always come from the player taking handoffs. Then the Ewa Beach-native shocked the world by choosing the Crimson Tide over many of the more pass-happy systems at Oregon, UCLA, and USC.

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As a freshman, Tagovailoa (pronounced TUNG-goh-vai-LOA) saw mainly mop-up duty in many of Alabama's lopsided wins, and anticipation grew as the prospect of the countries' top-powerhouse program finally having a quarterback that had legitimate NFL talent. Sophomore Jalen Hurts was leading the Tide from under center, but the nation stood witness to Tagovailoa's greatness when he replaced Hurts at halftime of the National Championship and propelled them to a come-from-behind overtime victory over Georgia. The highlight of Tagovailoa launching the deep ball to Devonta Smith on 2nd and 26 sent shockwaves through the college football stratosphere all offseason, and as a sophomore, he lived up to the hype.

During that 2018 campaign, Tagovailoa split reps with Hurts during the first month of the season, and would also miss numerous fourth quarters after being named the starter - due to Alabama rolling over the competition. All this time giving way to reserve QBs likely cost him the Heisman Trophy, but he still put outstanding numbers with 3,966 passing yards at 11.2 yards per attempt with a 43:6 touchdown-to-interception ratio and 69 percent completion rate. Tagovailoa led the Tide to another National Championship appearance, but a pair of early interceptions put Alabama at a deficit, and Clemson would go on to win. Despite the uncharacteristic performance, the Alabama signal-caller still entered the 2019 season as a favorite to not only win the Heisman but also be selected first in the 2020 NFL Draft.

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Tagovailoa was living up to those lofty expectations and was on pace to set career-highs in nearly every passing category when an ankle injury similar to the one he suffered late in the 2018 campaign slowed him, followed by a gruesome hip-dislocation a few weeks later. The latter injury ended his season, as he finished completing 71.4 percent of his passes for 2,840 yards at 11.3 yards per attempt with 33 touchdowns to only three interceptions. Despite the injury, Tagovailoa chose to forgo his remaining eligibility and declare for the 2020 draft, where many still have him pegged as a top-10 selection. Still, the three injuries he suffered in just over a calendar year are worrisome to many and have made way for LSU's Joe Burrow to become the favorite as the quarterback selected first overall.


When healthy, Tagovailoa has the most electric arm in this class. Yes, guys like Jordan Love and Jacob Eason have rare arm strength, but no one can match the combination of velocity and accuracy that Tagovailoa puts on his passes. His deep-ball accuracy might be the best I have ever seen coming out of college. Many hear the term "deep-ball accuracy" and believe that it's this wonderful gift to hit a receiver in stride down the field. That is not entirely accurate. It's the receiver's job to pace himself while tracking the deep ball to catch it in stride. It's the quarterback to guide him to the open area in coverage, or just lead him up the field if he has gotten over the top of the defense. That takes ideal ball-placement, arm-strength, loft, velocity, and, most importantly, hand strength to deliver a lasting spiral. Many forget about that last part, but many underthrows are merely a result of a poor spiral that comes undone and loses velocity due to the wind resistance it faces traveling through the air. This doesn't happen to Tagovailoa's throws, and that, along with the combination of factors I listed are a big reason why he is so dangerous throwing the ball down the field.

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Another attribute that makes Tagovailoa so successful is his discipline. When things are ideal in the pocket, his footwork is consistent, as is his balance, weight distribution through the process, and throwing motion. These are all factors in being an accurate quarterback, and they help maximize the abilities of his arm. He has improved his footwork in the pocket more and more through his time in Tuscaloosa, and when he flushed out of the pocket, Tagovailoa displays the athleticism and balance to make throws on the move. The NFL has transitioned into a league where quarterbacks that don't possess mobility are slowly being phased out, and with him being slightly undersized with an injury history to boot, it's vital that Tagovailoa be able to make plays on the go.

I am also a big fan of what goes on with Tagovailoa north of his shoulders. This is a player that processes the game quickly and manipulates coverages. Run-Pass Options are showing up in every NFL playbook, and Alabama was lethal during Tagovailoa's tenure at running these plays. He sells the run so well before putting that lightning-quick release into action and firing an accurate pass to his target. Many that question Tagovailoa's statistics are quick to point out that his numbers were inflated by his receiver's abilities after the catch. However, what good are those abilities if the quarterback doesn't give them an accurate ball to catch at full speed? Timing routes like these are just short possession routes if the quarterback can't hit them in stride, and while that is the receiver's responsibility on deep balls, it falls on the quarterback's shoulders for short and intermediate routes. Also, I love Tagovailoa's poise in big moments. Yes, against Georgia and Clemson in 2018, as well as LSU in 2019, he made some mistakes, but his blood pressure never seems to rise. Tagovailoa displays a short memory, and more importantly, a humbleness to identify and fix the mistake. Coaches love this quality in a signal-caller and leader.

Areas for Improvement

The biggest thing Tagovailoa will have to change at the NFL level is he needs to learn when the play is over. For 21 other players on the field, the referee's whistle means the play is over. However, quarterbacks have to develop an instinct of when get rid of the ball or hit the deck and move on to the next play. It's an off switch for their competitive nature, which in Tagovailoa's case is extremely strong. He has to figure out when the risk of keeping the play alive is no longer worth the possibilities that could fall in the defense's favor. Yes, Tagovailoa has made some extraordinary plays in these moments, but at the speed of the NFL, those will be few and far between. These plays also involve Tagovailoa taking punishment at the end of them, and with his injury history, most coaches will not want to risk losing their franchise quarterback.

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I'd also like to see Tagovailoa improve prior to the snap. There are times to predetermine throws and others where you have to honor what the play design and make a decision based on what the defense shows you once the play has begun. I understand wanting to take a shot deep at an opportune time, but once again, there has to be a level of restraint you demonstrate if the defense is prepared for it. Turnovers can turn a game around, and forcing the issue or ignoring the defense usually means putting the ball in harm's way. Speaking of taking care of the ball, Tagovailoa has to do a better job of keeping it close to his frame in all scenarios. It gets away from him when he is maneuvering in the pocket or avoiding the rush, as well as when he takes off. Once again, with the speed of the game, you can never account for every defender, which means you are just a hit away from the football coming loose.

Draft Stock

The injury history is going to be a concern for anyone interested in his services, and we may not get a definitive answer on his hip before the draft comes. We've gotten nothing but positive reports since the surgery, but even a full recovery won't change the fact that this is his third significant injury in less than a year. Having said that, he's my top quarterback in this draft without the injuries. That's not a knock on Joe Burrow, who I believe is one of the top five players in this class. We just haven't seen many players that throw the football like Tagovailoa in recent history. His ability to be accurate on all three levels is rare, and the hype that has surrounded him since he stepped foot on campus in Tuscaloosa is going to follow him to whichever team drafts him.

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Tagovailoa is a leader, worker, and an ideal face of a franchise, and not every quarterback comes in that package. Not only did he live up to the hype at Alabama, but he did something that no signal-caller during Saban's era in Tuscaloosa has done. Tagovailoa's talents forced Saban to approve changing their offensive strategy and open things up in the passing game like he never has before. That should tell you everything you need to know about Tagovailoa's rare talent. I personally think the draft starts at three with Cincinnati locked in on Burrow and Washington equally committed to Chase Young. If that holds true, teams that can see past Tagovailoa's injury history have to start considering him at three, whether it's Detroit or a team looking to trade up to that position.

Games Evaluated

  • vs. LSU (11-3-18)
  • vs. Mississippi State (11-10-18)
  • vs. Georgia (12-1-18)
  • vs. Oklahoma (12-29-18)
  • vs. Clemson (1-7-19)
  • vs. South Carolina (9-14-19)
  • vs. Ole Miss (9-28-19)
  • vs. LSU (11-9-19)

    Notes from Film

  • Plays with some of the best timing I’ve seen from a college quarterback. He routinely cuts the ball loose as his receiver is coming out of their break, giving defenders minimal opportunity to make a play on the pass.
  • His accuracy on short and intermediate passes is impressive. Many quarterbacks throw with good accuracy on these routes, but not many can do so with the velocity he puts on the ball. Because of this, he shows zero hesitation throwing into shrinking windows.
  • He really has a quick trigger. When Tagovailoa sees it, it takes him minimal time before it’s out of his hand. This may be one of his more elite traits.
  • However, the most elite trait he has is his ability to throw the deep ball accurately. There just aren’t many players I have watched that can throw with the arm strength, ball placement, vision and touch that he displays. The loft that he can put on a deep ball to throw it with enough distance from the receiver and defensive back that allows his players to use their speed-advantage to run under it is just on another level. It makes his receivers that much more dangerous when they get a step on the defender.
  • It’s fun to watch his feet in the pocket. You can see the progressions he is going through based on the activity of his feet. He can make it to his final read with his feet haven given him the opportunity to throw from an outstanding platform with every route in the play.
  • Arm strength is very good, including good enough to make off platform throws with velocity and accuracy. Still, I’d like to see his core get stronger to aid him in that area. When he is under control on the move, he can make good throws, but if he has to really get moving his arm is not enough to do it on its own like a Mahomes or Allen.
  • Has to be careful about doing too much and predetermining. There are times he will attempt to look off his opponent, expecting that it will garner him the necessary reaction from the defense to open up his desired receiver. In some of those instances, we’ve had some near interceptions because a defender didn’t buy the fake.
  • His eyes are always downfield, even when there is pressure.
  • As special as he can look, I think there are times when he loses perspective on the talent across the ball. We sometimes see this with quarterbacks that have a lot of success. They play like nothing bad can happen when they put the ball in the air. It’s a sort of complacency that indirectly results in a lack of respect for those on defense. Tagovailoa has to have it engraved in his head that at any moment, his opponents can make a play just as special as he can. No player is invincible. With that in mind, he has to get more disciplined to avoid this complacency and make good decisions on an every-down basis. I also wouldn’t be shocked if his offensive coordinator protects him early in his career on third and extremely long situations with conservative play-calling
  • On a similar note, he has to get better at keep that ball tight to his chest in the pocket. Too many times, it goes down to hip or just carries it away from his frame. That will result in ball-security issues at the next level.
  • Also on that note, he’s got to learn when to throw the ball away. Too many improvisations where he nearly spins into hit. No matter what he measures, he will not be considered a big quarterback and with the injury history he’s got, this will be essential.
  • Can get a little “hoppy” sometimes in the pocket where he is hopping around as opposed to shuffling his feet and keeping a balanced platform. It seems like this usually happens when he gets early pressure or he stays on a read to long before trying to catch back up in the progression.
  • I remembered him not having a great showing in the 2018 SEC Championship against Georgia, but his receivers did him no favors in the first two quarters. Between dropped passes and a play where two guys ran into each other, his play wasn’t as bad as the stat line looked.
  • Because he has such a quick release, he has no problem holding on to ball to the last second with pressure bearing down on him. Especially on some of these RPO’s. He takes some shots, but usually delivers a strike.
  • Beating a dead horse here, but I don’t know if I’ve seen a quarterback with better accuracy at all three levels.
  • Not all college offenses give the quarterback pre-snap responsibilities but NFL offenses do. It does not seem like Tagovailoa has much he is responsible for prior to the snap, meaning his interviews will be important in determining how ready he is to handle protection calls and shifts, as well as audibles.
  • Coming off the injury, he just looked like a different player movement-wise against LSU. Being able to extend plays and escape the pocket has become essential in the NFL, and it’s a big part of his game. It’s easy to see how big when that ability was limited.
  • One thing I worry about when evaluating him is the receivers. He will most likely never have that much talent to throw to again in his career. This isn’t even including the offensive linemen and running backs he’s played with. But for two years, he had four wide receivers in Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs, Devonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle who SHOULD all be top-50 picks when they are drafted, and there is an outside chance they could all be first-rounders. Has it made him look better? Has he made them look better? Is it both or is everyone in the equation just that good? That’s a difficult thing pinpoint for a scout.

    Scouting Video Courtesy of JustBombsProductions

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